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Breaking down the 2016 NFL draft: Defensive line (w/ video)

Whom the Bucs have

Gerald McCoy, DT, (6-4,300): Made Pro Bowl again despite being limited by injuries in 2015. What can he do when healthy with better supporting cast?

Robert Ayers, DE (6-3, 275): Had 9 1/2 sacks last season with Giants, with 20 over past three. At 30, can he improve on breakout second half of 2015?

Will Gholston, DE (6-6, 281): Unrestricted free agent after this season — tough against run, but needs to get to quarterback as well with seven sacks in three years.

Jacquies Smith, DE (6-2, 260): Still only 26, with 13 1/2 sacks last two years. Best used as third-down sack specialist — can he improve against run as well?

Clinton McDonald, DT (6-2, 297): Limited by injuries to six games last season — will Bucs draft a defensive tackle high to line up next to McCoy?

Akeem Spence, DT (6-1, 307): Only 11 tackles in eight games last year after bouncing back from back injury. Also a free agent after this season.

Howard Jones, DE (6-4, 238): Like Smith, only 26, and had five sacks in first NFL action last season. Another inexpensive young speed-rusher with upside.

Depth: Bucs have six more defensive linemen under contract, but with a draft pick or two coming, none of those are assured of a roster spot. DE George Johnson had zero sacks after the Bucs dealt a draft pick to sign him from the Lions — he's due to make $2 million with no cap penalty if he's cut. DT Derrick Lott had a year on the practice squad and will challenge for the fourth interior spot. Can any DEs emerge from Kourtnei Brown, Martin Ifedi and Cliff Matthews?

Top five draft prospects

Joey Bosa, DE, Ohio State (6-5, 269): Once seen as a top overall pick, still could go in top five. Had 13 1/2 sacks as sophomore, sparking Buckeyes' defense.

DeForest Buckner, DE, Oregon (6-7, 291): Size likely makes him a 3-4 DE, but some still like him in a 4-3. Had 17 tackles for loss and 10 1/2 sacks last season for Ducks.

Leonard Floyd, DE/LB, Georgia (6-6, 244): Played LB in college, but may be best suited as pass-rusher in NFL. Late push has him as late top-10 pick for some.

Sheldon Rankins, DT, Louisville (6-1, 299): Perhaps first DT taken — lack of height a concern, but still should be a solid three-technique DT in NFL.

A'Shawn Robinson, DT, Alabama (6-4, 307): Second-tier DEs like Shaq Lawson or Kevin Dodd could go higher, but Robinson should go in top half of first round.

Under the radar

Javon Hargrave, DT, South Carolina State (6-1, 309): Pass-rushing DTs are hard to find — he had 29 1/2 sacks the past two years, including six in one game against Bethune-Cookman. Bucs had a pro scouting coordinator at his pro day.

Free agency

Bucs spent good money to get Ayers, giving them a veteran presence at end, but didn't re-sign tackles Henry Melton or Tony McDaniel, leaving an obvious spot for a first or second-day pick at DT. If either DE or DT isn't addressed in draft, it's a spot where Tampa Bay could sign another addition as camp starts.

Best guess

The Bucs have to use at least one of their top three picks on the defensive line, right? Neglected for the past two drafts, it's due for a big investment — if not the No. 9 overall pick, look for the Bucs to take advantage of the draft's great depth on the defensive line. Would be surprising if Bucs don't pick two DLs.

Greg Auman, Times staff writer

Breaking down the 2016 NFL draft: Defensive line (w/ video) 04/22/16 [Last modified: Friday, April 22, 2016 9:48pm]
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[Bill Serne | Times]